Summary: Jesus teaches us that the best thing we have to smile about is our God-given faith in him.
Have you ever met someone who always seems to be smiling? They’ll be standing at the end of a long SuperStore checkout line and smile while everyone else looks slightly flustered. Or they’ll smile while eating an overdone steak while everyone else is grimacing as they chew. They will even smile as they hand over their last hundred dollar bill in a game of monopoly to the guy who built a hotel on Boardwalk! If you spend enough time around someone like that, their constant smile can get a bit unnerving moving you to finally blurt: “Whatcha smilin’ about?”
That was the question Jesus asked his disciples in our text this morning. And it seems like a silly question because his disciples had just returned from a mission trip during which they had been given the ability to heal the sick and drive out demons. Wouldn’t you smile if you could cure cancer? And yet Jesus told his followers that they had something even better to smile about than possessing the power to heal. As we gather around our Thanksgiving dinners this weekend Jesus also asks us: “Whatcha smilin’ about?” Are you smiling about the family you have or your good job? Are you smiling because you’ve just gotten over a nasty cold? Are you smiling because tomorrow is a holiday? These are all good things to smile about and to give thanks for, but there is something even better that God has given to us that ought to make us smile. Let’s find out what that is.
Our text describes a high point in Jesus’ ministry. He had enough followers that he was able to send out 72 of them to go through the towns and villages to call people to repentance. He warned them that their task would not be easy however because not everyone would welcome them. But Jesus also promised these followers that he would give them the power to heal the sick and to drive out demons. It was this ability that really excited the missionaries. When they returned, it was the first thing they reported to Jesus. It was as if they still couldn’t quite believe what God had done through them. Even evil spirits had listened to them in the name of Jesus. Wow!
Jesus rejoiced with his followers and said: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). Huh. Jesus believed in the existence of an evil spirit called Satan. And yet I wonder if even half the people who say they believe in Jesus, also believe that there is a Satan? Well with his pronouncement Jesus reminds us that Satan is a real being. He was once a good angel who rebelled against God and continues that rebellion as he tries to ruin as many people as he can by leading them away from Jesus. And so while the world is concerned about the Ebola outbreak and terrorists in the Middle East, as they seek daily updates on these threats, let’s not forget that there is something, or rather someone we should be more concerned about: Satan. There is no medicine or smart bomb that will stop his attacks on us.
But didn’t Jesus say he saw Satan fall like lightning? Yes! When Jesus’ disciples preached God’s Word, the Holy Spirit opened eyes to the truth so that sinners were no longer misled by Satan. God has soundly defeated Satan and yet when lightning falls to the ground it does so with a loud crash. Likewise Satan has not gone quietly into the night. He has fallen from his original position of power but he continues to seduce and intimidate and we need to be on constant guard against him. He is more dangerous than Ebola or an army of terrorists because the harm that Satan causes is loss of faith in Jesus and eternal separation from God’s love. That’s why Jesus urged his followers not to be excited that they had power over demons, but rather that their names were written in heaven and would escape the eternal judgment that awaits Satan.
But how do we know whether or not our names are written in heaven? Perhaps we should first talk about what does NOT cause our names to be written in heaven. Those disciples who had returned from their missionary journey were not to think that because they had driven out demons, because they had served God in this way, that their names were written in heaven. As someone pointed out last Tuesday night at our Bible class, on Judgment Day there will be those who remind Jesus how they drove out demons in his name, and yet Jesus will say to them, “I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers” (Matthew 7:23). These miracle workers must have performed their service out of a sense of duty or for the purpose of winning God’s favor. But we can never serve God as perfectly as we need to in order to earn our way into heaven. When we take time to help a friend move, we should do it gladly and not because we think this is what is expected of good friends. Or when we take time to sit down and encourage a co-worker or classmate who is going through tough times, we should do this not because we want them to think well of us, but because in Jesus we have a friend who always listens to us and we just want to emulate him.